Monday, 2 January 2017


Some folks asked me before that which Agile practice is the most important and my immediate answer is Retrospective. From my own experience, Retrospective plays the biggest role in the success of Agile practicing. Unfortunately, it may not necessarily be a popular practice. This is a bit sad because after trying Agile in different organizations, I see no practice that shows value as early and obviously as the Retrospective. Moreover, it is one of the easiest practice to adopt because it does not require discipline to practice regularly. It can be practiced as little as once a year and still be able to bring the differences.

Why retrospective is so important

Stay true to "agile" spirit

Unless you are hiding a rock, it is hard to ignore the debate about "Agile" versus "agile". Lots of developers are upset with the fact that agile is being seen as a set of ruleset rather than mindset. Unfortunately, trying to adopt agile by following the ruleset may lead to a rigid mindset, which is reversed to Agile manifesto.

Retrospective is not vulnerable to this problem because it is the most flexible practice in Agile. Retrospective stays true to the agile spirit by not specifying the method but only the purpose and benefit of the activity. Therefore, it leaves the team with freedom to conduct the activity in whatever ways that fit. The rule followers still can have it their ways with many techniques available but in general, this practice is very personal. While Planning, User Stories, Backlog and Iteration practices may look pretty the same everywhere, Retrospective is always very unique. Because each team has its own problems and members, following the same format still leads to different outcomes.

First step toward improvement

It is quite obviously that in order to improve, we need to see our weakness and limits. This logic should apply not only to software development but to any other aspect of life as well. Therefore, one of the first thing that one should do before introducing any change is spending time learning about the characteristic of each individual and the dynamic of the team.

The traditional method to understand team through psychology test is overrated. It tends to make teams fall into common stereotypes. It is not that psychology test is a waste of time but in reality, it works better for the individual, especially when the subject of the test is willing to collaborate. Therefore, psychology test is better to be a method of collecting feedback and improvement measurement.

For collecting insights about team dynamic, Retrospective is a more effective method because it is less intrusive. People are normally more comfortable when we ask less and let them talk more about what they are concerning about. Fortunately, that is exactly what Retrospective is about.

Keep a close look at the team well-being

The days where developers need to pray to get a decent job have passed. Nowadays, the demand for good developers is so high that most of the companies turn to headhunters to recruit talents. Hence, it is not only challenging to get more talents, but also to retain talents.

We may not be able to do much if this is paycheck competition. However, job changing is rarely purely paycheck driven. It can be very emotionally difficult to leave a job you love and a caring environment. Therefore, if the leader keeps a close eye on the team and each individual, there will be much greater chance to shield the team from lucrative offers.

How to run retrospective

As mentioned above, a good Retrospective is one that let people voice out their inner concern and thinking. Therefore, anything resembles form filling or interview is counterproductive. The better suggestion should be a flexible format. Retrospective itself need to be interesting and intimate enough to put people in a comfortable zone. Our ultimate goal is to let people share more so that the team can improve.

An effective facilitator needs to know how to stir up the conversation when it goes quiet and be silent when people are having a deep reflection. Any context switching is helpful as well. For example, a retrospective session can be out of office, far from the boss, enjoyable with coffee.

The last thing you need to remember about retrospective is to never ever take any discipline action from what you have learned in retrospective. Otherwise, it will be rightfully viewed as a betrayal of trust. Honestly, this will be the worst thing that can happen to the team.

So, if your team has not had an out of the box, open minded retrospective session for sometimes, please find an opportunity to bring the team to a nice place. I believe you and your team will have a good time.